While in the field, volunteers often have time to ponder a great variety of topics. Here, Kevin Wilson shares his reflections on cultural and national identity.
A Multicultural Story
One has interesting dreams in isolation. Often my dreams here refer to past occupations and fellow travellers. They probably mean I am in a new chapter of life.
Amid a fitful half-sleep pondering work issues, whatever I dreamt last night left no memory at all. But on waking this morning I had a strong impression my forgotten dream featured an old childhood friend, Peter.
Peter and his brother Stefan were products of a very kind, beautiful Filipina mother and an older very reserved, formal German father. I do not mean ‘products’ lightly: Both parents tried to mould the two boys in opposing directions, with a very few compromises along the way. Peter and Stefan would be brought to Mass each Sunday by Mother, but only after Father had sent them to German School on Saturday and their German homework was complete.
When he was eight Peter got to know his heritage and extended family during a four month stay in Germany. I think he also got to see the Philippines on the way back, at least I hope he did. Actually Peter was always closest to his adoring mother.
Despite looking entirely Filipino and considering Australia home, Peter called himself German and all us friends took this identity for granted. He would happily serve the Fatherland in our playground wars and battles, often playing the Red Baron against our Allied force. Sometimes he was even Hitler. In solidarity I would join him goose-stepping across the schoolyard. It made a strange perfect sense.
I had not seen Peter since sixth class. We were almost nineteen when he called out of the blue. Oh G’day! Yes, I was still at the placed we’d moved to. He was studying dentistry; I was doing fine art. Yeah, you were always drawing skeletons and stuff. How was the family? His parents were almost divorced. He wanted to divorce them. My dad had died the year before. Oh, sorry to hear about that. It’s great to talk to you again. Really. Yes. We must catch up. Of course we didn’t.
I wish we did. I wish we kept in touch. I wish I could speak to him now. Here. Now. On this empty Bougainville beach. Amongst the ruin of our own society. I need to know something.
We have had the Republican debate, the War on Terror, the environment, liberties restricted, the Flag, liberties wasted, policies promoting ethnic identity, national identity, culture, heritage, the Flag, religious Right, Left, atheist evangelism, secularism, the riots, non-racism, the EC, the Land, The Flag, the Anthem, the Flag. Sorry Day, Another Australia Day; Yet another ANZAC Day; Yet another Day.
Yet another time when we ask ourselves again and again and again – that same, same, almost boring question:
What does it mean to be Australian?
Peter has the best answer.
Kevin Wilson, from Toongabbie, is volunteering as an Administrator for Tunaniya Open Learning Centre in Bougainville, PNG.